Kierkegaard, Subjectivity, Mormonism and Universal Truth

Kierkegaard seems to refute the idea that truth is to be found by objectivity.  For him, ultimate truth will not result from advancing science or accumulating enough external facts.  Truth is to be found from looking within yourself, and acting authentically as an existing being.  Thus, subjectivity is truth.

In doing this, Kierkegaard asserts that one will pass from an aesthetic stage, to an ethical stage, and eventually a religious stage.  The aesthetic basically being a hedonistic, pleasure seeking existence, the ethical being a responsible, duty fulfilling existence, and the religious being a Christian.

Some have questioned the results of this line of thinking, claiming that it leads to an individualistic truth, instead of a universal truth.  Thus, everyone would be going about doing what they feel their inner self is authentically telling them to do, and having a world full of particulars instead of a universal truth.

I did not initially read Kierkegaard that way, and I think my Mormon bias is the reason why.  For me, Kierkegaard is an unashamed Christian (speaking of his view of himself rather than of Christianity as a whole).  I believe he would assert that Christianity is universal, and that the ultimate progress of existence is to be a Christian.  Thus, his religious stage is not just any religion, it is Christianity.  And I believe that he would feel that any other result would come from an unauthentic pursuit, or at least barriers to that pursuit.   I feel this is something of a Mormon way of looking at it, but I would think that Kierkegaard likely felt the same way about his Christianity as I do about my Mormonism.  And I think that we may agree that these should end up being the same thing if we were both authentic in our pursuit.

Again, all this sort of rings true for me.  Mormonism asserts an eternal intelligence as the core essence of who we are.  And that truth is to be found from within – or at least from a spirit communication.  But it is not at all uncommon for us Mormons to appeal to the inner feeling of the spirit as a source for ultimate truth.

But if this intelligence, and our spirit communications, is universal, then the result of the inner pursuit of truth should eventually result in universal (and not particular) truth.  Thus, I do not believe Mormons would have much of a barrier to embracing Kierkegaard’s ideas of subjectivity and truth.  What do you think?

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8 Responses to “Kierkegaard, Subjectivity, Mormonism and Universal Truth”


  1. 1 ji September 9, 2011 at 10:20 am

    You: “But it is not at all uncommon for us Mormons to appeal to the inner feeling of the spirit as a source for ultimate truth.”

    Your take on Kierkegaard: “Truth is to be found from looking within yourself, and acting authentically as an existing being.”

    Is there a difference?

    Truth can be found in so many places. We have a him Kierkegaard would like, called “Do What Is Right, Let the Consequence Follow.”

  2. 2 ji September 9, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Duh — …we have a hymn

  3. 3 Eric Nielson September 9, 2011 at 11:01 am

    ji:

    You are right, I think this is yet another expample of why I think many Mormons would dig Kierkegaard.

  4. 4 Clark September 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

    There’s a lot to admire in Kierkegaard but I think this element is precisely why I don’t like him. The fact you’ll eventually get to truth in his scheme seems dubious to me. I just don’t see how it follows. Further it doesn’t seem a terribly fruitful way to get to all the important truths we need to live a good live here and now.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson September 9, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I think the idea that the truth can be found within, and is within you, and eventually obtaining it seems to mesh well with Mormon ideas of eternal intelligences and progression.

    I think that Kierkegaard would say that the important truth for the here and now is to live authentically. I also suspect that helping others to find their way would not be out of bounds either. The individual would need to look within to see if what was offered was helping or not.

    But I think your take on him is a common one. I just think Mormons are more likely to buy this approach than others would be.

  6. 6 Matt W. September 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I like this. It makes me think of Widtsoe talking about how ultimately we are the arbiters of truth because whether it be communication from our senses or from spiritual transmission, we have to internally interpret it through our worldview to come to any sort of conclusion.

  7. 7 Clark September 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I think that Kierkegaard would say that the important truth for the here and now is to live authentically.

    Well I know he would, but I think looking at his history I’m not sure his life suggests this. Further the way he talks about living resolutely can be problematic.

    Put an other way I think the critique of Kierkegaard from within a Mormon conception is that there can be revelation from God and deception from the adversary – both which appear to come from within. Thus Mormonism demands a kind of suspicion and testing (Alma 32) that I don’t think Kierkegaard admits to. For Kierkegaard one should persist in being true to this inner self in spite of tests and results. Thus I think from a Mormon perspective a pure Kierkegaardian approach is open to deception.

    Now I recognize there are responses a Kierkegaard proponent can offer to this. (I have lots of friends who are Kierkegaard fans) I’m just skeptical that on a practical level this works beyond trying to narrow what it really means to look within oneself. However as soon as one makes that move the skeptical can always ask how we tell when we’re looking within ourself. For Kierkegaard I think there’s ultimately a faith that one can’t truly go wrong due to his conception of God. For a Mormon conception of revelation I just don’t think that move is possible. We are just too much the fallibilist.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson September 9, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks Matt. I agree.

    Clark:

    I see what you are getting at. The is a type of common-sence empiricism within Mormonism as well. You bring up a good point about Kierkegaard feeling that faith is a paradox based on the absurd (fear and trembling) that one must pursue in spite of reason, which Mormons would be hesitant to embrace.


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